Skip to main content

Charting a Glut of Scripted Original Series

FX last week confirmed what most television viewers already knew, and what its chief had previously declared: There are a lot of scripted shows on television and there isn’t enough time for viewers to watch all of them.

And if anything, it’s likely the number will continue to rise in 2016 as more programmers get into the scripted game.

Already, at least 20 new scripted series are scheduled to debut in January alone across broadcast, cable and streaming outlets.

“I’m not sure if anyone has a definitive answer regarding a ceiling for [scripted] content,” BBC America president Sarah Barnett said of the proliferation of scripted programming prior to the release of FX’s report. “As programmers, the best we can do is to develop great material that really connects with the audience and the brand.”

FX’s research department counted up 409 scripted series available to television viewers in 2015, up from 376 last year and 343 the year prior — and nearly double the 211 offered just six years ago, at the turn of the decade.

Online services and basic cable networks posted the biggest year-to-year growth among distributors. Over-the-top services such as Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu nearly doubled the number of scripted series from 27 in 2014 to 44 this year.

“This was the third consecutive year that scripted series count has grown across each distribution platform — broadcast, basic and pay cable, streaming — led by significant gains in basic cable and digital services,” Julie Piepenkotter, executive vice president of research for FX Networks, said.

FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf broached the subject of the profusion of scripted shows available in the marketplace during last summer’s Television Critics Association press tour. At the time, he said there were too many scripted television shows in the marketplace — more than 400, he correctly estimated — possibly leading to an eventual decline in the launch of new shows.

But some industry executives say it’s hard to predict if and when that decline will occur.

“The whole peak-TV conversation is a fascinating one,” Barnett said. “But there’s room for many voices, and I think the great and important thing is that there are a lot of opportunities for writers and creators. The good stuff always rises to the top.”

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.